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Having Coffee with Friends at the Tofte Dump

by Dan Vander Ark  
3/22/2007 / Christian Living

My boss's boss's grandfather passed away and the department secretary passed the obituary around for us to read. Two things stuck with me after I read it. First it was longer than the normal obituary and so I immediately assumed he must have lived a "full" life. Apparently he did. The obit listed the extensive list of his activities and accomplishments and military service. The second thing, and the item that really stood out to me, was this phrase tucked between the list of accomplishments and his surviving family members: "He loved.having coffee with friends at the Tofte dump." I may be reading too much into that phrase (I never knew or met the man) but to me it speaks volumes about a life lived full. Tofte is a little town in Northeastern Minnesota along the shores of Lake Superior. Population of 246 (or so). At the mining company where he was employed he worked his way up from foreman to results engineer and then to plant supervisor. Later (after retirement) he came back as a consultant. He was a board member of an area utility company and also a member of the North Shore Hospital board.

He did lots of "stuff." And yet when it came time to write a few paragraphs of his life to put in the local paper, family members thought it appropriate to include the few words, "He loved having coffee with friends at the Tofte dump." Weren't there other accomplishments/activities/contacts/life-stuff that would be more appropriate or more impressive to readers? What was the biggest fish he ever caught? Did he ever get a hole in one? What kind of a plane did he fly? During those nine years he served in the Navy during WWII (and the Korean conflict) was he involved in any of the major battles we read about? No details about any of that. And yet."he loved spending time with friends at the Tofte dump."

I think that's so cool. To me it says a lot about the important things of life. Living the "dash" (you know, that little itty bitty horizontal line between a date of birth and date of death that is chiseled into millions of headstones in thousands of cemeteries). Here was a man who sounded pretty accomplished and yet he apparently never lost touch with the people he grew up with and grew to love spending time with. Somewhere on some highway or gravel road I am sure you've stopped into a small family-owned caf for breakfast or lunch and when you opened the door just about every eye turned to see who the strangers were stopping by to eat and rest (I remember vividly as a kid stopping at one such caf in Wheaton, Minnesota along highway 75 on our way to our grandparent's house). A bunch of "old guys" sitting in one booth or around one table telling jokes, bragging about the fish they caught or the buck they shot, passing along the town news-gossip and just having a great time.

But this scenario is a little different they met at the town dump! Not as idyllic of a scene as a Terry Redlin old-time rural America painting, but a rural America scene nonetheless (just as the superstore-ization of our cities has wiped out the small mom and pop grocery stores, so the "town dump" has given way to the more sterile term "sanitary landfill"). Did they meet at the little shack that stood at the entrance to most dumps? Did they bring home the "one-man's-junk-is-another-man's-treasure" treasure? (You can't do that nowadays and maybe that's one of the root causes of the breakdown of the familywho knows). Whatever they did or didn't do, I am guessing he and they had a wonderful time.

"He lovedhaving coffee with friends at the Tofte dump." There is a phrase in a verse in the Gospel of Mark that stands out to me, "and being in Bethany in the home of Simon the leper" Two days before "Good Friday" Jesus (the King of kings, the Creator of the universe) was in a town about the size of Tofte and in a home not of the mayor or bigwig or some important official but of Simon the leper. Wow! Didn't he have more on His mind? Weren't there some other preparations to be taken care of? It was only about 48 hours away from His sacrificial and excruciating death on Calvary shouldn't he be confronting some Pharisee someplace? But the Bible says that He was "in the home of Simon the leper." To me that speaks volumes about the love and enjoyment that the Son of Man had for the Mr. and Mrs. Lifeistough family. He genuinely and sincerely loved being with people! He loved them enough to go to the cross for them (the John 3:16 thing).

"He lovedhaving coffee with friends at the Tofte dump." When your obituary is written will they simply list your job titles, places of employment, educational degrees, and surviving family members? Or will they include a much more important snippet of how your life was livedyour very own version of "having coffee with friends at the Tofte dump?"

Dan Vander Ark

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